Anyone seen the key to life?

28th July 2000 at 01:00
WHEN my headteacher said I was a key member of his team I little envisaged the hours ahead at the end of term threading duplicate locker keys on to three wire coathangers held in my room in school. If retrieving books from departing seniors is difficult, getting back keys from pupils must be well nigh impossible.

Between the television dramas where students casually access their lockers and the reality of managing lost keys, forgotten keys, broken keys, lockers too high and pupils too low lies a dark shadow. Perhaps I could apply for a job at Yale.

This gap between appearance and truth can be tricky. Years ago, in the days of the belt, I remember hearing a teacher in a Greenock school talk about how he widened the curriculum by inviting a friend, a retired master mariner, to talk to pupils about his seafaring experiences. The pupils were entranced by the tales of derring-do, and later in a maths lesson the teacher tried to cash in on the success.

He and the class discussed the size of a whale (as reported by the mariner), and to visualise its enormity they set a boy off along the straightest, longest corridor in the school rolling a trundle wheel. This he did with earnest brow and fixed conversation, but halfway along the door of a particularly crusty Frenc teacher opened, and after some concentration the pupil was ushered in, and belted.

Only later did he explain that when the teacher asked what he was doing he'd answered: "I'm measuring a whale."

Sometimes parochialism is to blame for the confusion. One of my earliest school trips abroad saw a returning pupil at Dover rush to the WH Smith bookstall and ask for a copy of The Times, only to be mystified when the Thunderer was proffered instead of the Evening Times.

Last month, while attending a birthday party in Islington (among the chittering classes - the outdoor venue turned a bit cold), I met a group of Scottish educational exiles, including a university vice-chancellor, an economics lecturer, a primary headteacher, and an education official, whose early years were spent in Dalmarnock. Garnethill, Govanhill and a croft in Lewis.

Later I found myself wondering how they viewed Scottish education from their perspective - as a backwater they had left behind, as an envied OFSTED-free zone, as quaint and outdated or as stable and effective. The high road to England had certainly proved successful for all of them.

As far as I'm concerned I can think of only one English idea I'd be ideally placed to introduce in Glasgow - Key Stage learning.

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